We are in a section of Luke’s gospel where Luke is teaching his readers about discipleship. Last week we noticed that true disciples love the Lord with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind and act like a neighbor toward everyone without limits. In the midst of Luke’s series on discipleship we come across a short story about a family argument. Initially this story may seem out of place. Why do the scriptures record a disagreement between Mary and Martha. Doesn’t this seem like a personal story? But there is a purpose for Luke including this story in his orderly narrative to Theophilus. Let’s look at the story and see what the Holy Spirit through Luke is revealing to us.
Setting The Scene
We need to set the scene to this story. Jesus has entered a village. A woman named Martha welcomed Jesus into her house. Now consider for a moment the pressure that Martha is under. Imagine having Jesus come over to your house. Some of you understand this pressure to a degree. When you are having the preachers over to your house for a meal, you want everything to be perfect. You make sure that the house is clean. You make sure the guests are comfortable. You make sure that the meal is prepared and can be served on time. You want everything to be perfect and there is a lot of work to do to make sure that the evening goes just right. This is a big day. I would imagine that Martha and Mary had a plan. When I have gone on meetings I have seen families come together to make sure the preparations are made. I would suppose that Mary and Martha had worked out a deal where Mary was going to help Martha get everything set for this important moment when Jesus came into Martha’s house.
Now the scene becomes interesting. Martha is running around the house trying to get everything ready. One can imagine the smoke rising in the kitchen as she is preparing things at a frenzied pace. But where is Mary? Mary is sitting at the feet of the Lord, listening to his teaching. I can see Martha peeking around the corner and resenting the fact that Mary is just sitting there while she is killing herself trying to pull off this meal. You can almost hear the thoughts running through her head. “It would sure be nice to have a little help in here.” “Why isn’t my lazy sister in here helping me?” “Wish I could be out there listening but someone has to get this meal prepared.” Finally, Martha cannot keep it inside any longer. Notice her words in verse 40.
“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” (Luke 10:40 ESV) These are strong words. “Don’t you care, Jesus?” Can you imagine saying to Jesus that you do not care about me? Martha is claiming an injustice and sees Jesus as not caring about how she is being mistreated at this moment. “Tell my sister to help me out then!” Martha thinks that Jesus will set Mary straight. Send Mary in here to help me out. There are things that need to be done if we are going to eat!
But Martha gets an unexpected response. Have you noticed that it never works out the person who tries to tell Jesus to tell another person to do something? But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41–42 ESV) You know that Martha expected Jesus to say, “Mary, please be a good servant and go help your sister.” Instead, Jesus tells Martha that she is wrong and that Mary has made the better choice. In the rest of our lesson we will consider the lessons we learn about discipleship from Martha, Mary, and Jesus.
Differentiating the Urgent From the Important
The problem was not that Mary did not understand what needed to be done. The problem was Martha thought those urgent things were important. She had all of these pressing issues that seemed to be so important but truly were not important. They were urgent but not important. There is an interesting thing that happens between things that are urgent and things that are important. Have you ever noticed that important things never clamor like the urgent things? Urgent things scream in our ear and make our stomachs upset until we do them. But the important things in life quietly remain in the corner, often ignored, never demanding our attention. It is the phone calls, the cleaning of the house, the yard work, the house work, the job that clamor for our attention. We have email, Facebook, Twitter, texting, and the like that all swallow up our attention. Yet none of these things are important. Notice we are not talking about sins. We are merely talking about the urgent things in life that pull us away from the important things in life. To put this point in the context of the story, consider this question: Was Martha sinning? No, she was not sinning. She was just allowing the urgent things of preparing for the Lord’s coming for a meal to interfere the important things of spending time with the Lord. This is what happens to us. Our schedules become so overloaded with urgent, non-sinful things that we neglect the important things of life. We spend time with all the things that schedule our lives and do not do the important things that God has told us to do for godly living. We spend time taking care of the house rather than spending time with our family. We spend an extra hour at work rather than spending an extra hour with our spouse.
I want you to notice an important word in verse 40. The word is “distracted.” “But Martha was distracted with much serving.” Her attention was drawn away from the Lord by the burden of her duties. She had things that had to be done and no one is disputing that at some point the things that Martha was doing would need to be done. But these things were not important. These things are not more important than sitting at the feet of Jesus like Mary was doing.
How often we neglect our Lord Jesus for the urgent things in life. Bible reading is neglected because we have urgent things to do. Prayer is non-existent because we are simply to busy to pray. We neglect the assembling of the Christians together because we have so much to do. Teaching is neglected because we do not have time to spend with our friends and neighbors. It is amazing to me that the fact we have not checked our email can scream louder in our ear than the fact that we have not checked in to the Lord in prayer. It has been hours since we looked at Facebook and we think we are missing out, but we let hours go by without looking at our Bibles and do not even notice.
Putting First Things First
The story is teaching the disciples that we need to redefine what is important. We must carefully determine what things are truly important and what things are simply urgent. Only when we do this will we be able to place the important above the urgent. The urgent screams loudly in our ears. If we do not predetermine that these things are not important, then we will continue to neglect the important things. How do we determine which things are in life are important and which things in life are urgent? Jesus teaches us how to sort this out in verses 41-42.
“One thing is necessary.” Do we live our lives with this kind of perspective? Martha is anxious and troubled by many things, according to Jesus’ divine observation. But only one thing is necessary. There is only one important thing. Mary had chosen that necessary thing. She had chosen to sit at the feet of Jesus. She chose listening to Jesus and Jesus was not going to take that away from her so that she can make a meal or do the dishes. The one necessary thing was to sit at the feet of Jesus. How often we act like this is not a necessary thing. There is only one important thing and I fear that we often do not classify our gathering in worship as important. Studying the word of God together in Bible class and in our assemblies are simply not important to us. Yet we read that the first century Christians devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship (Acts 2:42). They understood that there was one necessary thing. Too often we treat our gatherings as optional. Mary had chosen the good portion. She had chosen the most important thing. One writer made the point like this:
“Amid all life’s duties and necessities there is one supreme necessity which must always be given priority, and which, if circumstances compel us to choose, must be chosen to the exclusion of all others. That supreme necessity is to sit at the Lord’s feet and listen to his word. It must be so. If there is a Creator at all, and that Creator is prepared to visit us and speak to us as in his incarnation he visited and spoke to Martha and Mary, then obviously it is our first duty as his creatures, as it ought to be our highest pleasure, to sit at his feet and listen to what he says.” (Gooding, Luke, 212)
Unfortunately, it seems when circumstances compel us to choose, we choose the urgent to the exclusion of Jesus. We come to services only when there is nothing else. We pray only in circumstances of need. We read only when there is nothing on television. We choose God only if there is no other pressing need. And we think we have proper excuses. “Well, I had to work.” “I had to do such and such.” “I had people I had to be with.” There is only one thing that is necessary. This must be a life changing teaching. True disciples of Jesus are moved by the one necessary thing: to sit at the feet of Jesus. Sitting at the feet of Jesus is the only pressing need! Disciples of Jesus do not let the urgent things of life squeeze out the one important thing: Jesus. Just because it is not a sinful act does not mean it is not a sinful choice.
“We cannot do everything; there is not enough time. Like Mary, therefore, we shall have to choose and choose very deliberately. Life’s affairs will not automatically sort themselves into a true order of priorities. If we do not consciously insist on making ‘sitting at the Lord’s feet and listening to his word’ our number one necessity, a thousand and one other things and duties, all claiming to be prior necessities, will tyrannize our time and energies and rob us of the ‘good part’ in life.” (Gooding, Luke, 216)
Are we teaching our children to be a Martha or a Mary? Are we teaching them that the urgent things of sports, school, and activities are important? Or are we teaching our children that there is only one important and necessary thing? We get tons of opportunities to teach this to our children. Recently, Halloween was on a Wednesday night. Our kids did not even ask what we were going to do. They knew there is one important thing and it is not getting free candy from houses. We excuse ourselves by saying, “It is only a Wednesday night.” It is an opportunity to sit at the feet of Jesus. This year Christmas day falls on Sunday. Will we teach our children there is one important thing or will we push Jesus in the corner and do what we think is urgent? What is your desire? Do you want to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to his word? Jesus must be the priority over worldly concerns. Disciples of Jesus live with only one thing as necessary. Nothing in life is important except Jesus.